Beginning as a “bar brawl” the riot began on February 10, 1355 as a dispute between two students and the taverner. Lasting two days and resulting in several deaths among local citizens and students.
The riot began at the Swindlestock Tavern in Oxford. This is now the site of the Santander Bank on Carfax, on the corner of St Aldate’s and Queen Street. The riot started when two students of the University of Oxford, Walter Spryngeheuse and Roger de Chesterfield, and the taverner, John Croidon began an argument. The students complained about the quality of their drinks. The taverner responded with what was described as “stubborn and saucie language”. Anyone who has ever been in a bar can imagine what that sounded like. One thing led to another and the students threw their drinks in the taverner’s face and assaulted him. Then all hell broke loose.
Croidon was angry at the students’ behavior and began to rouse the locals by ringing the town’s church bells. The students, not to be out done, did the same at the university church. This drew a crowd, and one thing led to another. Violence broke out until it was a full scale brawl. The mayor of Oxford, John de Bereford, asked the Chancellor of Oxford University, Humphrey de Cherlton, to arrest the two students. Instead, 200 students supported Spryngeheuse and Chesterfield, allegedly assaulting the mayor and others. As the situation escalated, locals from the surrounding countryside poured in, crying: “Havac! Havoc! Smyt fast, give gode knocks!”
Thats when the riot broke out and lasted two days, which left 63 scholars and perhaps 30 locals dead. The dispute was eventually settled in favor of the University, when a special charter was created. On February 10th, the saint’s day of St Scholastica, the mayor and councilors had to march bareheaded through the streets and pay to the university a fine of one penny for every scholar killed. The penance ended 470 years later in 1825 when the mayor refused to take part. In an act of conciliation on February 10, 1955, the Mayor was given an honorary degree and the Vice-Chancellor was made an Honorary Freeman, at a commemoration of the events of 1355.